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One of the finest and toughest of all blues singers, Bogan (nee Anderson) was born in Amory, Mississippi in Monroe County in 1897. Her family soon moved to Birmingham, Alabama which was to remain her base until the late 1920s. At this time she moved northwards to Chicago; returning to Birmingham in the 1930s. Sheldon Harris (1) tells us she moved out to the West Coast in 1948 and died there the same year, of coronary sclerosis. Survived by a son who might still be living, this is just about all we know of this great blues singer. (2).
Thankfully, we have a series of excellent records (over 90 sides) made between 1923 and 1935, to which we can refer to for some possible clues to fill in at least a part-sketch of the woman and blues singer known as Lucille Bogan and also as “Bessie Jackson”. While looking for facts based on blues lyrics can sometimes be of dubious value, nevertheless a part of the singer’s character and personality comes across to the listener; indeed some blues lines can be taken literally as the truth.
of the recurring subjects in Bogan’s blues was prostitution. The most famous
being “Tricks Ain’t Walking No More”. Mistaken by U.S. black feminist
writer, Michele Russell in 1982, as a moral stand on the part of the singer,
who refuses to further degrade herself even though she’s ‘broke an’
hungry’; in fact “Tricks” is clearly a prostitute’s lament because of
a dwindling supply of customers or ‘tricks’. Poor blacks were hit by the
Great Depression long before it became ‘official’ as Bogan moans:
done got hard, money’s done got scarce,
goin’ to learn these walkin’ tricks what it’s all about,
got up this mornin’, with the risin’ sun,
recorded this song three times during 1930 and she obviously felt a strong
affinity with poor, black women driven by desperate social and economic
conditions to the “oldest trade in the world” only to find that the
Depression had hit that too. Things didn’t seem much better by 1935:
credit one man, it was to my sorrow,
even in those hard times there was an alternative to being a street-walker in
the South; selling illicit booze or being a bootlegger. This was another
popular theme in Bogan’s repertoire, as titles such as “Sloppy Drunk
Blues” ,“Bootlegger’s Blues” and “Cravin’ Whiskey Blues”
testify. On another of her blues “Whiskey Selling Woman”, she wants to set
up her own “booze society” which quite naturally excludes policemen!
feel superstitious, something’s goin wrong , (x2)
got four cases, tomorrow at that county jail, (x2)
judge he said, ‘put a padlock on my door! (x2)
I had a thousand dollars, I’d taken my way,
would build me a still on every street in this town. (x2)
recorded this again in 1933 as “Superstitious Blues”, with Walter Roland on
piano, and substituted one verse with these lines:
you arrest me, you better put me in a cell,
Tell ‘em, gal, tell ‘em!
advert. for “Perfect Race Records”, c .1933 ; depicting a Lucille Bogan
Who’s Who”. Sheldon Harris. Da Capo. N.Y.1989 (Reprint).
article appeared in “Living Blues” No.44 in 1979(p.p.25-28) which I have yet
to locate. And this year Guinness have published a “Who’s Who Of Blues”
but adds nothing new under the entry “Lucille Bogan”.
. “Tricks Ain’t Walking No
Stew Meat Blues” Lucille Bogan, as “Bessie Jackson”, vo. Walter Roland
pno.8/3/35. New York City.
Selling Woman” Lucille Bogan vo.; Charles Avery pno. late
Blues” Lucille Bogan, as “Bessie Jackson”, vo.; Walter Roland
pno. 20/3/33. N.Y.C.
I include the following title although less than ten pages actually concerns
Copyright © 2001 Max Haymes.
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